What Was the Purpose of Propaganda During World War I?

Throughout history, governments have used propaganda as a powerful tool for drumming up support for wars among its citizens, and the period during World War I was no different. Britain and Germany relied on sensationalistic headlines that portrayed the other side as monstrous and barbaric, while America used propaganda to convince its citizens that German ancestry supported war efforts. All countries used propaganda to paint a portrait of military superiority.

As a result of the widespread propaganda depicting Germans as “mad brutes,” German-American citizens faced widespread persecution. Other U.S. propaganda encouraged young men to enlist in the army through posters that depicted soldiers as heroic. Tactics ranged from depicting the famous Uncle Sam to emphasizing the opportunities for travel that young men might not otherwise receive. The Army also offered the chance to gain skills for future employment, a tactic still used by recruitment commercials today.

In Britain the Defence of the Realm Act prohibited newspapers from covering certain topics that would dampen morale or potentially give away valuable information. News stories were often stretched or outright fabricated to justify the war effort.

In general propaganda was used to generate feelings of patriotism and support for the war effort and recruit volunteers for industrial work, nursing positions and telephone operations, among other jobs.